Disastrous flood leads to storied career as Yukon leader

Although George Black has a long list of accomplishments to his name, his memory is often overshadowed by that of his first wife, Martha, in Yukon's history books. Martha is often portrayed as a fearless woman, who was, in some ways, ahead of her time.

Although George Black has a long list of accomplishments to his name, his memory is often overshadowed by that of his first wife, Martha, in Yukon’s history books.

Martha is often portrayed as a fearless woman, who was, in some ways, ahead of her time. She was a fascinating character, but so was George.

George Black had much success during his 50-year career as a miner, lawyer and politician, and he also had his fair share of misfortune.

And, if it wasn’t for one of Black’s seemingly largest misfortunes, he may not have become a legendary figure in the territory’s history.

Black was born in Woodstock, New Brunswick, in 1873. He studied law on the East Coast of Canada, and was called to the bar in Fredericton in 1896.

Two years later, at age 25, Black was stricken with gold fever and he made his way to the Klondike for the rush in 1898, where he mined on Livingstone Creek for two years.

He found enough gold to make him rich only to see his fortune swept away in a flood, according to Black’s Parliament of Canada biography.

After the rough luck, George moved into Dawson and returned to practising law.

In Dawson, George met Martha Munger, and they married in 1904.

One year later Black was elected to the Yukon Council, and then he was appointed Commissioner of the Yukon Territory.

“He is best remembered for his efforts to obtain legislation to protect miners, loggers and others who worked for companies that went bankrupt in the boom and bust northern economy,” according to Black’s biography.

“His knowledge of the area, his proven ability and his cordial informality also made him a very popular Commissioner.”

When the First World War began, Black was eager to help his country. He was told that if he could enlist enough men for a regimen, he would be made a colonel.

Black was able to muster a group of 226 men, which he called the Yukon Infantry Company.

After training in France the company went to France as part of the Second Canadian Machine Gun Brigade.

Black was injured near Amiens and, soon after, decided to return to Vancouver.

In 1920 Black vied for a seat in the British Columbia election but lost, so he ran and won the Yukon seat in the House of Commons the following year.

Black was re-elected three times but, by 1935, he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

When the election of that year was called, Black was convalescing in a psychiatric hospital, and so Martha stepped up to run in his place.

She won the seat, which made her only the second woman to sit in Canada’s House of Commons.

Five years later, George had recovered and so Martha stepped aside and George remained in the House until 1949, after which the couple returned to Dawson City.

After Martha’s death in 1957, George remarried. He died in Vancouver, BC, in August 1965.

Today the ferry that connects Dawson City to West Dawson bears his name. There is also a street in downtown Whitehorse, Black Street, which is named for both George and Martha.

This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it

will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information,

or to comment on anything in this column

e-mail lchalykoff@macbridemuseum.com.

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